And furthermore … (still on yoga pants)

I wanted to add a few thoughts — such as my sleep-deprived brain can conceive — on the yoga pants. My last post was about dropping the parenting ball more than yoga pants. But what do I think about clothing bans?

First, let’s clarify a few things. The ban on yoga pants is not across the board. You may want to read this piece from Kelly Egan in the Ottawa Citizen. He writes:

According to the board’s website, every school is required to have a dress code, which may involve uniforms. It is to be consistent with the teachings of the Catholic church and is accordance with parental views. The code does not appear to contain the word “yoga.”


The policy does state: “This (code) may be as general as addressing the wearing of ball caps and the length of skirts and shorts.” There is no Lulu sub-clause, or any hint about dealing with a student wearing yoga pants, a ball cap and a short skirt.

One school in Barrhaven reportedly banned yoga pants as part of their dress code. The problem with banning a piece of clothing is that it doesn’t prevent inappropriate dress more than banning a breed of dog prevents dog bites. Ban yoga pants and the girls will wear skinny jeans. The problem with modesty and the quest for attention through revealing clothing runs much deeper than the particular make and  model of the pants. Children learn trough example and repetition. It is somewhat naive to think that you can ram some modesty in a teenage girl who dresses for attention just by banning a piece of clothing. Pants are pants. The problem is how you wear them.
My oldest daughter wears yoga pants and skinny jeans at school. Yet, you would never see her as dressing inappropriately. She is naturally modest. My two middle daughters are competitive gymnasts and spend a fair amount of time training in what amounts to a bathing suit. They need more formation on modesty than their older sister. Banning yoga pants for girls such as my oldest daughter serves no purpose other than send parents scrambling to the nearest Old Navy. As for the other girls, just type “girls in school uniform” in the google search  box… wait… uh, don’t…
Am I saying that I oppose clothing bans? Well, yes and no. Teenagers need to learn that there is such a thing as inappropriate attire. The school can and should determine what is appropriate dress for a learning environment. We’ll let the bar scene determine the appropriate attire for picking-up a one-night-stand. And the world-wide-web for getting the attention of pedophiles and other deviants. But schools can’t hide from the subjective nature of sending a kid home to change behind the curtain of banning a piece of clothing and calling it a day. Yes, good taste is in the eye of the beholder. However, the beholders who are sending your children home to change — because you wouldn’t or couldn’t or just didn’t notice — are the same beholders of the jobs your children will be refused, the raises your children will be denied and the opportunities your children will seek out. Some lessons are better learned before you have a family to support, I’m just saying.
Another problem with clothing bans is that they tend, by nature, to overwhelmingly target girls. Yes, there is the odd ban of graphic tees and bottom-grazing jeans that apply to boys. But short-length provisions, belly-shirts bans and yoga pants clauses apply to girls… Ok, they won’t spell it out, boys are also prohibited from wearing yoga pants. But believe me, if a boy shows-up in high school wearing a tight-fitting belly shirt (and it’s not Halloween or cross-dressing fundraiser day), he will be sent home by his peers faster than the Principal can grab his parents’ phone number. Clothing bans that target female attire reinforce the message that girls are responsible for boys’ sinful impulses and must be reigned-in. Same idea as the burka, just different degrees. Bras are more distracting to boys than they are to girls, that’s how they are wired (the boys, not the bras). But boys have to learn to live with distractions of a sexual nature without acting on their impulses. That’s also a lesson better learned sooner than later.
One of my children took issue with my previous post on raising teenagers (it may have been one of my teenagers…) and told me with a surprising (to me) mix of scorn and sarcasm (paraphrasing): “You write that you are raising adults, not teenagers. That’s so ridiculous. You’re treating us like children!” Now I feel like I should specify, in case this was not clear to other readers, that by “raising adults” I didn’t mean treating teens like adults. I meant raising your children with a vision of the adults you want them to become. Clear?

Yoga pants

My oldest daughter is 15. Last weekend, her school band teacher organized a music retreat complete with master classes, section sessions and the dreaded sleepover. Her band teacher is excellent. The music program at her school is top notch. When I go to their concerts I always get all choked-up:  I have excellent memories of high school music class. We also had a few “music retreats” although there wasn’t much music during our nuit blanche. They were strictly a team building exercise where much nerdy fun was had. In my days, only the nerds played music. Now it’s cool. At bed time we would pull blue mats out of the gymnasium’s storage unit and crash all co-ed on the floor. Two male teachers, music and English, would sleep over and we would all head to the greasy spoon next door first thing in the morning for some bacon and eggs. I’m sure the teachers had some coffee too.

(Open parenthesis: weren’t those the days eh? When two male teachers could supervise a mixed sleepover party at school? Now, at my kids’ elementary school a few years ago, the custodian was the only male staff. Everyone else was female. My 2nd-grader would come home literally groaning in pain from needing to go pee day after day. One day on the drive home I told him: “Why don’t you go pee just before the end of class? This way you can make it home”. He answered that he never went to the toilet at school because the stalls didn’t lock properly and the older kids would barge in and pull you out as you did your business. Nice. I went and talked to someone about it and was told that this was going on in the male bathroom and there was no male staff to enforce discipline in the male bathroom. In other words, unless the custodian was handy, those kids could have been snorting cocaine in the boys bathroom, no female teacher would dare walk in there and chance a disciplinary hearing. That’s brat power for you. Close parenthesis)

As far as team-building goes, this may sound self-serving in light of what’s coming later in this post, the sleepovers were fun but nothing more. Massed bands concerts and band competitions, when we got to work, anticipate and sweat together were far more instrumental in building team spirit than watching scary movies and eating chips late in the night in band class. Anyway, it doesn’t really matter whether this was the be-all-end-all of team building because our family has a strict rule against sleepovers in any way, shape or form. Our daughter was going to participate in the music retreat but be excused from the sleeping part. I’ll let you guess how this went over.

I will not replay the (many) conversations we had with our daughter on the subject but they replayed themselves on a call-in show following the decision by a local high school to — as it was reported — ban yoga pants as part of the school’s dress code.

One of my daughter’s complaint on the unfairness of the sleepover rule was that parents would be supervising the retreat and that everybody else was allowing it. A local call-in show was asking parents what they thought of the yoga pants ban and spray-painted-on apparel. One after the other, parents were repeating variations of the same platitudes about how “Teens are gonna do what teens are gonna do” and “We did the same thing at their age”. In other words, there is nothing we can do about it. Girls are going to wear inappropriate, revealing, clothing and boys are going to be turned-on by it and that’s the way the world goes round. Banning yoga pants is not going to change anything so why bother? And I’m supposed to feel all warm and fuzzy that some of these similar-themed parents are supervising the sleepover retreat? So when Jimmy and Jessica decide to go find  a quiet spot somewhere will they brush it off as “Teens are gonna do what teens are gonna do” and “We did the same thing at their age”?

Being a teenager is not an end-state. It’s a transition to adulthood. I often joke that toddlers and teenagers are surprisingly similar: self-centered with poor impulse-control, an unrefined sense of fairness and a complete unawareness of their limitations. Teenagers have one foot still firmly set into childhood and the other in their future. Teens will challenge and push limits, this is their job. But if pushing is the defining feature of teenage-hood we are not helping them by removing what they are pushing against. Growing into adulthood and responsibilities is not learning to live without limits but learning to manage them. As a parent, my job is to form and to educate and this is achieved by giving teenagers something to push against, like a tutor on a tomato plant. And of course, as teenagers grow in age and wisdom and as they show their judgement to be trustworthy, limits gradually evolve. Some of them are removed, others morph into something else. And others will remain for the rest of their lives, hopefully.

I am not raising teens. I am raising adults. It takes a lot of work, self-awareness and constant re-evaluation. Some days I suck at it.  But this is the game of parenthood. Play ball.